It might be Election Day, but that doesn’t mean the Hail Varsity mailbag takes a day off. Instead, we’re here to give you a nice little distraction from all of the election craziness with some talk about football, volleyball and more. We even threw in a discussion on burning (or not!) quarterback Patrick O’Brien’s redshirt for good measure. Sound good? We thought so.
Brandon Vogel, Jacob Padilla, Jake Jensen and Erin Sorensen answer your questions in this week’s Hail Varsity mailbag.
Q: Why not burn O’Brien’s redshirt? Knowing you have Lee for two years and Tristan coming next season. Plenty of talent. – A.J.
JP: “We have plenty of other options, so who cares if we cut short a kid’s career?” That seems harsh, but that’s how the way this question was worded comes across to me. O’Brien was the fourth-string quarterback at the end of fall camp and since then has only taken a mix of scout team and third string snaps in practice. While Ryker Fyfe may not inspire confidence, I doubt Patrick O’Brien is the cure-all, especially if it’s just for a couple games.
JJ: You don’t burn a quarterback’s redshirt for one game, or do you not remember the Harrison Beck-saga?
BV: All of the above is certainly true. Although I agree that Nebraska is unlikely to be in a position three or for years down the road where it would be kicking itself for not having an extra year of eligibility — that’s not a comment on O’Brien’s ability, just the knowledge that things rarely play out according to plan — It’s just too late to go down that road. It’s not fair to the player. But I do think if Nebraska is without Armstrong, you could see Zack Darlington get some game snaps. Ryker Fyfe will of course get the first shot at it, but if the Huskers were struggling to run the ball and teams could basically leave an extra defender in pass coverage, Darlington’s mobility might be an answer.
Q: What is the biggest position of need going into ‘17? On a scale of 1 to Chuck Norris, where does Justine Wong-Orantes rank? – 3.L.C.
JP: I like the quarterback collection with Lee, O’Brien and Gebbia (although perhaps finding a quality walk-on to add depth might be a good idea). Similarly, offensive line is shallow right now but there will be seven redshirt sophomores and freshmen next season plus Jerald Foster. Wide receiver loses a lot but they have two commits already and are still in the hunt for 5-star Joseph Lewis. The defensive tackle spot is losing Kevin Maurice, but Nebraska has two freshmen already in the 2017 class.
I’ll say the biggest need on this team is the pass rush, although that isn’t one specific position. Whether it’s a defensive lineman or a linebacker, Nebraska needs to find someone who can get to the quarterback and finish the play. Whether it’s natural development by players in the rotation, growth from the redshirts or readiness to play by the freshmen, Nebraska has to find some pass rushers. More on this below.
As for Justine, I’d like to see Chuck Norris take a shot to the face like the one she did against Illinois and still finish off the point.
JJ: I’ll go with the center position, at least until Raridon and/or Decker prove themselves. I think Utter is a good guy who gives everything he’s got, but he has been exposed in Big Ten play. This is a recurring issue for Nebraska, as their over reliance on walk-ons (just one scholarship center since 2009) has turned that position into a liability year in and year out.
Q: Was last Saturday just a blip, a 3-steps forward 1-step back type of deal? I know we’re beat up and recruiting hasn’t been great. – D., Colorado Springs, Colo.
JP: I’d say it was closer to a blip, although I don’t think it was a complete aberration. It was a combination of injuries piling up, Nebraska having its worst day at the worst possible time and Ohio State getting back on track after a couple of lackluster efforts.
JJ: It showed just how far Nebraska needs to go. Probably the biggest thing I noticed while watching was how much faster Ohio State was at every position. This is a problem fixed with good recruiting and while Nebraska is on the right track with this class, they’ve still got a ways to go.
Q: What do we have in the pantry for defensive rush ends? We need help. Love our guys to death but facts are facts. – G.S.
JP: John Parrella likes Alex Davis and he’s been getting on the field for a few snaps every game, but he’s not quite there yet. Colin Miller was a pretty effective pass rusher in high school who is redshirting this year. Jake can better speak to the incoming freshmen and top targets still on the board for 2017.
JJ: Nebraska currently has two commits for the defensive end position in Robert Porcher IV and Guy Thomas. Porcher is 6-foot-3, 250 and still growing. He has solid burst off the line of scrimmage as well as a tremendous football IQ and he could see the field early as a run stopper. Thomas measures in at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds and is the first true edge rusher Nebraska has landed since Randy Gregory. I think he’ll need a redshirt year but he can be really good. The Huskers have one spot left for a defensive end in their class and appear to be zeroing in on Lashawn Paulino, a 6-foot-4, 230 pounder that is currently committed to Michigan State.
Q: Have you talked with TA is he all right? Feeling alright? Knocked unconscious is serious. – S.S., Adams, Neb.
ES: Not personally, but Riley talked about him a bit on Monday. He’s going through concussion protocol so his status for this weekend is not clear yet. Regardless, the fact that he’s going to be OK is a big win.
Q: What was the best part of the trip to Columbus? – T.J.K, Glenwood, Iowa
BV: I think the overall atmosphere is always the biggest plus of a trip to Columbus. Football feels big there, which always pushes things to another level. I’d like to hear and feel the Horseshoe at its loudest in the fourth quarter of a close game, but Nebraska hasn’t provided me that opportunity yet. Still a great place to go watch a football game.
ES: I really enjoyed seeing the campus and town a bit. I got to catch up with some really great friends, too. Ohio State folks have always been so awesome to me so it was nice to see a lot of those people in person. Sure, a win from Nebraska would have been nice but it was a good trip and experience regardless. The people – and the Buckeye doughnut I had – were a big part of that.
Q: What bowl destination do you think we will land this year? – A.D., Neb.
JJ: I’ll go with us making the Outback Bowl and playing Tennessee.
Q: Even though the Ohio game was a blowout, didn’t it feel like the final score should have been closer? – E.W., Ark.
JP: Ohio? Brady Hoke, is that you? Regardless, I can’t say I felt that way. Nebraska had several chances to make plays and they simply couldn’t. Of course, losing Tommy Armstrong Jr. made the final score much worse, but Nebraska earned that lopsided score.
JJ: I thought it seemed like even more of a blowout because of how easy Ohio State made it look. The Buckeyes only ran 10 different plays on offense, but Nebraska couldn’t stop it.
BV: I’ve watched and covered some pretty big blowouts of Nebraska over the years, and this one felt the most dominant. Ohio State did whatever it wanted offensively. It scored on every drive it had minus the last one, which was a clock-killer you can chalk up to offensive indifference. If Armstrong was available for the whole game, Nebraska probably scores a few more points, but the run game wasn’t really going anywhere so it was going to be a matter of taking shots down field and hoping you won some one-on-one battles, which wasn’t happening often enough early in the game.
Q: If Coach Cook could change positions, would you rather he coached football or basketball? Who needs him more? – C.S.
JP: I say let him consult for every sport. He references a different sport every time he talks to the media.
BV: That’s a good point by Jacob and a better idea. I do think it would make every program better. But I know what Cook’s preference would be — football. He started as a football coach and really still thinks of himself that way. He likes to be on the sidelines for Nebraska football games. Cook loves football, so I’d turn him loose on that program. Not because I think it needs him more than basketball, but because I think it would benefit the most. In my mind, when it comes to crafting consistent winners the sport is almost incidental. Cook has proven he knows how to do it.
Q: You can add one referendum to the ballot that concerns Husker
sports – what’s your proposal? And I know “no Friday football games” may
be the easy choice. – M.S., Cook/Tecumseh, Neb.
already called it but ‘no Friday football games’ would be at the top of
my list. I’m not a big fan of college football competing with high
school football. Plus, there’s not much value
in it for the programs that participate. I’d say put that on the ballot
and let people vote. I have a good idea of how it might go.
However, if Nebraska is going to play Friday night games, having it be a road game makes it a little better.
Q: How do you think Nebraska’s attitude will be for Minnesota? I’m afraid if they lose confidence, season over. – R.
BV: I put it this way in Hot Reads today: We have 21 games under Mike Riley where the best thing about the program may have been its resiliency and one game where it felt a little lacking. For that reason, I’m betting the Huskers will bounce back just fine, but I agree that there’s some reason to wonder. That Ohio State loss was so complete, so “out of the blue” as Riley put it, that it’s fair to question if something changed with the program last Saturday. I don’t think we’ll think that’s the case in three weeks, but it’s not impossible.
ES: The initial vibe I got at Tuesday’s practice is that the team is in pretty good spirits. We’ll know more as the week goes on but that’s a pretty good sign.
Speaking of practices, we always have a post-practice update thread in our Premium forum.
Erin is the Deputy Editor and Digital Marketing Strategist for Hail Varsity. She has covered Nebraska athletics since 2012, which has included stops at Bleacher Report, Cox Media Group’s Land of 10, and even Hail Varsity (previously from 2012-2017). She has also been featured on the Big Ten Network, NET’s Big Red Wrap-Up, and a varsity of radio shows nationwide. When not covering the Huskers, Erin is probably at Chipotle.